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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

It’s a matter of conscience

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Chapter 11 from the brand new e-book, ‘Keen & Abel’.

There’s a Yiddish time period, “mashuga”, which implies “loopy”. The man BASE leaping off Desk Mountain? Mashuga.

The previous woman who wanders down the Sea Level Promenade with no pants on? Mashuga. (Presumably a flasher… jury’s out.) The ramblings of US presidential hopeful Kanye West?

Mashuga.

All of them qualify. Sadly, so do I relating to my propensity for talking my thoughts. It seems that I’m one of many solely fool CEOs in South Africa who has referred to as out corruption, who has labored with a lot of key organisations that sort out corruption, who has marched towards Jacob Zuma, and who has written open letters to Cyril Ramaphosa and different articles for main information retailers. Over the course of my profession – and particularly over the previous ten years – I’ve been much more vocal within the media than most CEOs. A part of the reason being strategic necessity.

“One of many issues Mike did extremely nicely early in his profession was create nationwide thought management for whichever company he labored at,” says Nando’s CEO Geoff Whyte. “When he was at Ogilvy Cape City, he made it a thought chief in South Africa regardless of many of the enterprise being in Johannesburg. Mike is thinking about enterprise, the economic system and politics, and I feel that provides him a broader perspective; greater than only a singular give attention to promoting.” Thanks, Geoff. Whereas among the articles I’ve written have been designed to start out a dialog about varied facets of promoting and model South Africa, a lot of what I’ve shared falls past the boundaries of my day job. Increasingly more ceaselessly I’ve spoken out concerning the deteriorating state of our nation and, importantly, what we are able to do to show it round.

This type of factor can entice slightly reward and lots of flak. The reward comes from the individuals you give a voice to by expressing what they’re already considering or feeling about the place we’re going as a nation. The flak – and the mashuga – comes from these with the long-held perception that enterprise and politics don’t combine. I’ve been informed that I’m “too political” and “too outspoken”, or that I’m “on the mistaken facet of the federal government in the mean time” (the latter very true when the Zuptas had been in cost). Each time I heard that, I used to be torn. On the one hand, I discover it gratifying and reassuring that I’m being heard. On the opposite, it’s terrible that there could possibly be penalties and fallout – for our firm, our individuals and our shareholders – for saying the precise factor.

The issue is, it’s by no means been a matter of selection. It’s a matter of conscience.

I can’t permit myself the posh of retaining quiet if I feel one thing needs to be stated. With regards to politics in South Africa, the time period “minding your individual enterprise” couldn’t be extra cowardly – there are few nations on the planet the place politics has such an affect on enterprise. Even when my voice is deemed irrelevant in some quarters, I don’t give a rattling. I’m not ready to remain quiet. If saying what must be stated about corruption, intolerance or gender-based violence prices our enterprise financially, so be it. As Invoice Bernbach of DDB stated, “A precept just isn’t a precept till it prices you cash.” In fact there’s pressure between my outspokenness and my very own political affiliations. Through the years, my commentary has given many the prospect to name me out for being “anti-” one thing – be it a political celebration, the federal government or the president. Extra not too long ago, I’ve been referred to as a denialist. Having a political standpoint will at all times get somebody’s again up, however my orientation has at all times been in the direction of discovering significant options to maneuver our nation ahead.

A current instance got here within the type of the #ImStaying motion, which I first observed in November 2019 as slightly Fb group of some thousand individuals. Seeing its potential as a platform for lively citizenry, I reached out to its founder, Jarette Petzer, to supply assist with strategising, focusing and rising it. It rapidly gained momentum, and membership exploded to greater than one million – it grew to become a possible driver of social cohesion, placing strain on authorities and effecting tangible change for individuals who really want it.

Whereas I want to suppose all this has received us associates, allies and accounts, my taking a stance has resulted in M&C Saatchi Abel shedding out financially, particularly within the earlier days, when politically linked kickbacks had been par for the course. I as soon as turned down an govt who needed to purchase a 26% native black possession stake within the company, as a result of he refused to reveal who was concerned in his consortium. He informed me I used to be silly and naive, and that I “didn’t perceive how enterprise is completed within the new South Africa”.

My response was, “Lengthy might it stay that means.”

He’s accomplished very nicely for himself since – however has he accomplished so ethically? Based mostly on that interplay, I very a lot doubt it.

Lengthy earlier than the Guptas grew to become a family identify, I had a dinner assembly with the director-general of a parastatal, at his request, who later turned out to be a infamous Gupta lieutenant. Together with his innuendos of how, as a civil servant, he may “do nicely” and due to this fact “we are able to do nicely”, it wasn’t tough to learn between the strains. There was nothing apparent, however I didn’t just like the route the dialog was taking. Midway by means of dinner I felt compelled to say one thing. “Possibly I’m being dof right here, however I wish to let that I received’t do something unethical. Ever.”

Issues received awkward, and inside 5 minutes he’d received up and left, leaving me with the invoice. It was a small value to pay for my integrity.

It might be a cliché, however the track that finest describes M&C Saatchi Abel must be Frank Sinatra’s My Approach. There are all these catchy strains about residing a full life and never having regrets, but it surely’s the cautionary verse that resonates with me most of all:

For what’s a person, what has he received?
If not himself then he has naught
To say the issues he really feels
And never the phrases of 1 who kneels
The report exhibits I took the blows
And did it my means.

I see corruption in every single place. The stench of it permeates authorities, politics, some companies, municipalities. And the issue is, if we get used to it, we’ll cease smelling it. Just like the loopy cat woman who has no concept she smells like her 300 cats, it should change into our scent. Corruption by South Africa.

I want talking out wasn’t one thing I needed to do. I want I may focus all my consideration on my work, my household and my different pursuits, as an alternative of getting to carve off a portion of my time for these things. However I communicate out – as a result of I really feel I’ve no selection, as a result of it needs to be accomplished, as a result of that perfect world the place “enterprise and politics don’t combine” now not exists. Definitely not in South Africa. Even the US, the previous darling of liberal concepts and democratic beliefs, is faring no higher. And by democratic beliefs, I don’t imply the Democratic Occasion. In some ways I really feel that the Left has left the Left.

That’s why companies and enterprise leaders should take a stand.

Take a look at the out of doors attire model Patagonia. Led by Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia doesn’t keep quiet concerning the issues that matter. From their advert campaigns to their PR statements, they’ve put their cash the place their mouth is. They’ve, for instance, gone to court docket to sue the Trump administration for the president’s makes an attempt to eliminate two million acres of public land within the US (simply one in all Trump’s many anti-environmental acts). They’ve donated the proceeds from “Black Friday” gross sales to environmental teams, in addition to $10 million from what they referred to as “an irresponsible tax lower” for giant companies to teams preventing local weather change.

Certain, the leaders and staff of Patagonia really feel strongly about environmental causes. What they’re doing can be good enterprise, as a result of their clients care deeply about these points too. That’s why Patagonia’s activism has solidified their standing because the out of doors model with the best buyer loyalty in that phase.

Nike is one other model that has nailed its colors to the mast. In 2018, nicely earlier than the homicide of George Floyd and subsequent international mass protests across the Black Lives Matter motion, Nike ran an inspirational advert starring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick had been harshly criticised for refusing to face throughout a pre-game nationwide anthem in 2016. As an alternative, as a symbolic protest towards police brutality, he had taken a knee – and he hasn’t performed within the NFL since.

The Nike advert’s pay-off line was, “Imagine in one thing. Even when it means sacrificing every little thing.”

When it aired, the advert prompted controversy among the many regular right-wing suspects on Fox Information and social media. Some clients burnt their very own Nikes in protest. However then, regular individuals and celebrities received behind the message about Kaepernick’s braveness. Gross sales boomed, and the model’s inventory started to surge. In the long run, that advert earned Nike $163 million in media publicity, a $6-billion enhance in model worth and a 31% enhance in gross sales. What it earned in respect and model love was priceless.

As movie director Spike Lee stated on the time, “Nike is on the precise facet of historical past.” Quick-forward to the occasions of 2020, and he has been proved proper.

Whereas it’s moral, principled, brave and sensible, what Nike and Patagonia have accomplished just isn’t sophisticated. They’re nonetheless industrial firms and there’s no political manifesto – they don’t inform individuals how you can vote, how you can suppose, whether or not to favour the donkey or the elephant, or put on blue or pink. They merely declare what they stand for relating to the large points we should always all agree on, like human rights and the setting.

Whether or not you be a part of them or not is your name.

After I communicate out, I’m not promoting athletic gear or out of doors attire, and I’m not pushing my firm. I’m additionally not taking a facet, or pushing a selected political agenda. Through the years, I’ve labored for the ANC, the DA and on many different politically aligned initiatives, as a result of like Coke and Pepsi, Heineken and Fort, they had been shoppers and we had a short to execute. After I combine enterprise and politics in my public statements, it has nothing to do with the factional facet of politics, and every little thing to do with positively discovering options to our issues and realising our nation’s potential.

I communicate out as a result of South Africa has been so completely looted and pillaged – by Jacob Zuma and ANC cronies, and large enterprise like Bell Pottinger, consulting companies and main auditing companies – that the thought of standard South African enterprise individuals “staying out of it” is now redundant. Why ought to we keep quiet? If the federal government is actively harming the nation by means of corruption whereas additionally adopting insurance policies which might be unfriendly to enterprise, the setting, training and well being, what’s the level of holding your tongue?

That’s why I’m mashuga. I don’t put up with the unhealthy shit I see on the planet. I’ll maintain tilting at windmills.

Different CEOs might name me loopy, naive and commercially silly. I’ll take it, as a result of I can say that I’m not morally bankrupt. While you develop a popularity for being incorruptible, the crooks cease bothering you – and also you sleep nicely at evening as a result of your conscience is obvious.

I hope that my talking out provides all CEOs and different enterprise leaders the braveness to do the identical. Now we have to declare what we stand for; we now have to current options. Now we have to demand transparency and accountability, good governance and correct management – time and again, till we’re blue within the face. Or till there’s change.

Name me naive, however my hope is that our nation can repair itself and alter course.

Talking of fixing issues…

South Africa has survived apartheid, gone by means of the transition to democracy and endured unparalleled state looting, unprecedented droughts, greater than a decade of load-shedding, a worldwide pandemic – and the financial tsunamis every of these have wrought. Within the iconic “Repair Our Shit” advert M&C Saatchi Abel did with Nando’s, we highlighted that irrespective of how shut we seem like circling the plughole, South Africans have at all times managed to outlive, endure and “repair our shit”. We’re nonetheless right here, the honey badger of countries, battle-hardened scrappers who know how you can survive.

We see this mindset in motion on a regular basis in civil society, NGOs, companies and people. When the Gupta Leaks whistle-blowers spoke out, their selfless act not directly knocked Zuma from energy and despatched the Guptas working. When the federal government tried to close down the Nationwide Faculty Vitamin Programme throughout Covid-19 rules, successfully eradicating the one each day meal relied on by 9.6 million of South Africa’s poorest learners, Equal Training took the Division of Fundamental Training to court docket and had the choice reversed.

When the Maluti-A-Phofung municipality ran the city of Harrismith into the bottom by means of years of nepotism, corruption and debt (it owes Eskom R4 billion) residents took issues into their very own fingers. Realising that the municipality was wholly incapable of delivering primary providers like water and refuse assortment, a bunch of civic-minded companies and people referred to as the Harrismith Water Heroes received collectively to do the job themselves. It’s a superb instance of individuals working collectively to resolve the actual drawback, which was not the water provide or the dearth of refuse assortment, however the individuals working the municipality itself.

How can we save South Africa?

Counting on a damaged authorities beset by factional infighting and greed will solely end in extra delays, extra theft, extra setbacks and extra disappointment.

I imagine all of us have to be “mashuga” and “repair our shit”. Then, as residents in each aspect of life, we are going to construct up South Africa to the place it ought to be.

I’m at all times impressed by the closing line of the enduring “Assume Totally different” Apple advert narrated by the late Steve Jobs: “As a result of those who’re loopy sufficient to suppose that they’ll change the world are those who do.”

We’re prepared and in a position. #ActiveCitizenry. DM

Keen & Abel obtainable to purchase on-line at @TAKEALOT.


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